Have you ever spent time with someone in their last days? Was it intimate, peaceful and special – or was it full of intrusive hospital equipment, harried nurses, physical pain and no chance to talk?

We are all affected when someone we love is close to death. I am sure we all hope for a time of tranquility and the chance to say a meaningful goodbye. And, it goes without saying, a time that is pain-free. The concept of a “good death” is not an empty one. The question is how to achieve it. Can hospice care help?

Life in Hospice Care

It was my privilege some years ago to interview a number of nurses, doctors and other staff working in two hospices in England. From what they told me, outside of the family home, I could not imagine a better place for one’s last days. Everyone seemed full of compassion, but also thoughtfulness about the needs of the people there, both those who were dying and their relatives and friends.

Attention to Needs

It is difficult to do justice in a few words to the breadth of attentiveness in a hospice. As described in much more detail on my website, it is not the big things that one remembers, but the little touches that make all the difference.

In my book, I introduce different patients, like the woman who didn’t want a bath at the normal time and was allowed to bathe at the time of her choosing. Or the family member who needed a sandwich to enable her to stay at the bedside and how it was provided. Or the patient who simply needed a cuddle.

I met a hospice cook who spent considerable time thinking about how to encourage people to eat. He said if they ate, they would be alert enough to say goodbye to their friends and family. He studied the impact of drugs on the taste of food and learned how to counteract this.

A choice of food was always offered. He encouraged people to get out of bed to eat, if at all possible, so they could have a sense of occasion with their friends or family.

Each person – whether a nursing assistant or chaplain or doctor – looked out for patients’ needs in all sorts of ways. This might be the need to talk about the past or simply to sit in silence with someone holding their hand.

Sometimes, some action was called for, such as an elderly woman who wanted to write to her grandchild, but needed a slight reminder to do so sooner rather than later. The stories go on and on.

Hospice Care Offers a Choice in Death

No one chooses to die, of course, but hospices do what they can to allow people to die in the way they want. Perhaps most memorable for me was the man who asked to die under a tree and was duly taken outside to do so when his time had come.

Some people wanted music and others wanted family with them. Some appeared to want to be alone. A Muslim man asked that his bed be turned so that his head was facing east. Every effort was made to respond to these wishes.

We don’t like thinking about these things, but we all know we should. Many people want to die at home, but end up in a busy hospital. There is a need to think about what you – or your family – would want, so it can be planned for.

What do you think are the benefits of hospice care? Have you witnessed a good death? Or were you present at a bad one? What considerations do you want for your own death? Do your loved ones know your wishes? Please join this important conversation.

Ann RichardsonAnn Richardson is a writer and grandmother. She is fascinated by other people’s thoughts, experiences and emotions and loves to write books where they can express their views in their own words. Her most recent book is Celebrating Grandmothers: Grandmothers Talk About Their Lives. Ann lives in London, England, as do her two children and two grandsons. Please visit her website here.




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